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Career Women of the Bible: Introduction – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Aug 212007

Editor’s note: This post was updated on 9/30/2010.

One of the largest Southern Baptist seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), in Louisville, Kentucky began a new core of programs for women in 2007, which included:

Seminary Wives Institute is an innovative program designed to prepare the wives of seminary students for their role in their husbands’ ministries.

Women’s Ministry Institute offers women the opportunity to improve their skills and ministry through a variety of classes geared toward women’s ministries in the local church.

Classes included housekeeping, budgeting, being your husband’s best friend, keeping an organized house, and sewing. There were Bible classes, but the descriptions sounded like the women taking these classes had never been to Sunday School. There were “leadership” classes, but the brochure and class descriptions made it clear that this was leadership for womens and children’s ministry. The counseling classes made it clear that women were to counsel only other women according to the Titus 2 model. In 2007, when this post was first written, my favorite class module was this one:

Redeeming the Time looks at setting goals and priorities but also tackles practical issues including day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.

Rev. Anges Diffee pastored one of the largest Nazarene churches in the 1940s, Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene.In their 2010 class schedule, I noticed SBTS no longer offers this module, and for good reason. Most seminary students are at least 22, and I was 28 when I started seminary. I have friends who started seminary in their 30s and 40s. I’m thinking most seminary wives, along with most seminary husbands, have an idea of how to use a day planner and set goals. In 2007 SBTS module also made it clear that a woman’s role is to keep house, period. There was a core of courses on homemaking (link no longer available). Classes include homemaking, sewing, taking care of children, and cooking. Basically SBST’s courses of study for women are degrees in home economics. The classes they now offer in their certificates for Seminary Wives and Women’s Ministry still make it clear that women that a women’s place is in the home and leading only women and children at church, but they have dropped the home economics classes in their 2010-11 offerings.

This is why I am writing Career Women of the Bible. There is a disturbing trend in evangelicalism that takes the 1950s Leave It to Beaver family and elevates it to the biblical model of family. The “biblical” model of being a woman means staying at home, raising children, and taking care of the household. But does the Bible really say that?

This book began as my thesis in seminary. During my time at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS), I would be asked in churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I wasn’t. I was called to be a pastor. This question asked in church foyers, potlucks, and Sunday School classes struck me as odd. It seemed odd because The Church of the Nazarene has been ordaining women for over 100 years. The first women in my denomination was ordained in 1903. In the 1930s 30% of Nazarene ordained elders were women. The largest Nazarene church, First Church of the Nazarene, in Little Rock, Arkansas was pastored by a woman in the 40s–Agnes Diffee. Little Rock First ran 3,000 then. Agnes also became the first female radio evangelist in the United States.

This question also made me a little angry. Why would anyone think I was pursuing a Masters degree to find a husband? With what it cost? And the time? It was insulting to me. It wasn’t until after I had graduated that I found out that in the 1970s NTS had a course for guess who? Yes–for pastors’ wives. In a denomination that had been ordaining women since the turn of the twentieth century, they had a pastor’s wives (not spouses) course.

“Are you going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife?” This question sparked my thesis: a Theology of Single Women in Ministry. I wanted to show that God called women in their own right to be prophets, judges, and leaders. Even women like Deborah and Huldah were not leaders because of their husbands. They were leaders because God called them and they obeyed. I have since thought more and more about women in the Bible–and not just the ones called to leadership positions. Even those who appear to be the typical mother and housewife on the surface belie these apparent roles. Women such as the matriarchs–Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah–helped define the covenant with God and literally birthed God’s chosen people. The Proverbs 31 woman, who is usually prooftexted into the domestic diva of her day, did not just keep an orderly house and raise kids. She was also a business woman: she spun and wove cloth and sold it. She also had her own property, which she bought and sold. Taking a closer look at the women in the Bible shows there is much more complexity to who they were and their roles than what a cursory glance gives.

But one thing I do not want to do is gloss over or demean the women who have chosen to stay home and raise their children. I believe being a mother is a full-time job and then some. That is why I have made sure to include mothers in this book. In the Bible mothers make covenant decisions regarding their children. Women’s decisions regarding their children have led to mighty movements of God’s Spirit. Think of Rebekah making sure Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing as God had told her years before. Think of Hannah giving Samuel into God’s service, and the revival that came to Israel due to Samuel’s leadership. Women’s fingerprints, mothers’ fingerprints, are all over the purposes and plans of God for God’s chosen people: both Israel and the Church.

I think by taking a closer look at the women in the Bible, we will see that they wore as many hats as women do today: wives, mothers, students, prophets, judges, evangelists, pastors, and apostles. There were also business women: Lydia and the Proverbs 31 woman; harvesters like Ruth, and a queen who saved her people, Esther. Women in the Bible lived many different roles as women today.

I hope this book will help you see that God has not limited what women can do. In fact, the biblical witness is just the opposite: we see God calling women to build God’s kingdom in both the sacred and secular realms as well as the home.


Rev. Agnes Diffee (1889–1970) who pastored Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s.

Rev. Santos Elizondo (1867–1941) who preached and led 100s to Christ in El Paso and Juarez. She was in charge of Nazarene work in Juarez for 35 years.

Rev. Emma Irck (1888–1984) pastored the largest Nazarene church in Houston, Texas. She was also a renowned evangelist who traveled thousands of miles to hold revivals.

Pictures and descriptions are from the Weselyan Holiness Women Clergy website. For more information on these women and other women leaders influential in the holiness movement visit WHWC Picture Gallery.

(Hat tip to Feminary and Church Gal for bringing this up on both of their blogs, and a very big thank you for giving me the thing I needed to spark off the introduction for this book.)

Related Links:
Updated: Potential “Career Women of the Bible” Outline
Viewpoint of a Female Minister

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  12 Responses to “Career Women of the Bible: Introduction”

  1. Shawna,
    Great stuff, I hope you’ll sign my copy…

    Hope you are well.


  2. […] Links: Introduction to “Career Women of the Bible” Updated: Potential “Career Women of the Bible” Outline […]

  3. this is really good stuff!
    my take on it was a bit snarky (as is my wont) but i’m glad there’ll be a really fine look at women in the bible that goes beyond a bizarre fixation on June Cleaver!

  4. Brian, my friend, of course I will sign your copy. Thank you for dropping in. I am very well. I need to email you and Becky. I’ll summarize: marriage is so much better than I ever dreamed it would be. 🙂

    Ding, thank you for stopping in too. My first take was a bit snarky as well, but at about 1:00 this morning it all fell into place.

  5. ” day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.”


    I need that course right now. Right this minute.

    I could see where you could find it insulting but I absolutely could take that class; not sure it would help.

    The pastor’s wife course, to me, is poignant. It is a rough job and frankly, not all women are up to it (just my opinion, mind you). Don’t want my little girl to go thru that, but again, my opinion.

    And I had to smile again at getting a Master’s to find a husband. My girlfriend (a pastor’s daughter) used to call it getting an MRS. degree at Moody. We had heard that there were girls who went to school to find a godly husband there; that’s just sad, but again, I can relate.

    My daughter will not be doing that, thank you very much.

    BTW, thanks for coming by!

  6. Tag, you’re IT!

  7. Great stuff here Shawana, looking forward to seeing more.

  8. Thank you Sally.

    Brian, I’ll try to get the post up this week.

  9. This is a wonderful post, Shawna! I can’t wait for your book to come out. Please sign it for me, too. 🙂

  10. When my sister-in-law started medical school 4 years ago, there were some ignorant individuals who would ask if she was going into nursing. Apparently, going to medical school was a rare thing in our part of the “backwoods” and, besides, she was a woman. I laughed with her at how there were many doctors who were women, and about how someone could think that she would ever be a nurse after 4 grueling years of medical school (she was a nurse before medical school anyway).

    And it surprises me that some people still believe that if a woman goes to seminary, she is training to be a pastor’s wife. I guess I went to a more liberal divinity school after all because none of my female classmates were there for their Mrs. degree or any degree in home economics.

    I have finally found peace in my life that it is okay for me to not be a stay-at-home mom. So much of the world has told me I must be happy at home while my children are young. I really am not cut out for it, and I am so much happier working outside the home (and getting paid!). I don’t love my boys any less.

    I have been reading and thinking about the way the 1950s family has been elevated to the biblical idea for a few years as I have struggled with my feelings. I am glad that you are going to challenge the idea in your book. There are far too many women who must work to support their families, and they do not need any guilt heaped upon them by society or their church.

    By the way, these new homemaking courses that the Southern Baptist seminaries have created make me gag.

  11. […] Why Career Women of the Bible? Does It Really Mean “Helpmate”? The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman Made in the Image of God: Female Sphere: Related Content   […]

  12. […] I was extremely glad that Lainie and I talked about these issues after reading this post from Grace at Are Women Human? Later that day another friend directed me to the Women’s Bible Programs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These issues are alive and well in evangelical and fundamentalist cultures in the U.S. I have written about the programs for seminary wives at places such as SBTS as well as introduced my readers to ordained female pastors and evangelists of the early 20th century in the Church of the Nazarene in t…. […]

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